Biography of Douw Henry Fonda


AN ALBANIAN who has long been actively and successfully engaged in an important, special commercial interest in this city, and who, at the same time, has taken an active part in the promotion of sound education and municipal prosperity is Douw H. Fonda, the popular, enterprising wholesale druggist, of Nos. 70 and 72 State street.

Born on the loth of September, 1831, in the picturesque village of Fonda, N. Y., he comes from a substantial line of Holland ancestry, noted in the olden times, some of whose members have held important and responsible public positions in this state, and aided largely in the development of the material and intellectual resources of the country. He is a son of the late G. T. B. Fonda, a highly esteemed citizen of the town of Fonda, N. Y. The maiden name of his mother was Rachel Polhemus, who was married to Mr. Fonda about the year 1829, and who died July 5, 1844.

His grandfather was Douw Adam Fonda, also of Fonda, N. Y., who was a member of the assembly from the counties of Montgomery and Hamilton in 1833, and who died July 5, 1855, leaving a high record as a useful, honorable, public-spirited citizen. His great-grandfather was Adam Fonda, a son of Douw Fonda, an early settler of Fonda, which in his time bore the Indian name of Caughnawaga. He experienced many of those hardships which fell to the lot of the original settlers of this country. But he faced the dangers which surrounded him with a brave heart, until struck down by merciless, savage hands. In 1780, during the revolutionary war, this old pioneer was killed by the Indians in one of their stealthy, murderous attacks upon the defenseless inhabitants of the Mohawk valley. His memory will always be venerated by his descendants who rejoice in the possession of a goodly heritage, so long protected from the tomahawk and the scalping-knife.

His great-great-grandfather was Jellis Adam Fonda, who was born in 1668, and who married a daughter of Peter Winne, of Albany, N. Y., in 1695. Jellis Douwse Fonda was the first of the name in the Mohawk valley. He appears to have been a resident of Beverwyck (Albany) as early as 1654, only thirty-one years after the erection of old Fort Orange by the West India Company. We find that his wife’s name was Hester, who in 1666, was the widow of Barnet Gerritse.

Douw H. Fonda, the subject of this memoir, received the rudiments of his education in the common schools of his native place. He diligently improved the intellectual advantages afforded him in the old school-house, with a view, principally, of early fitting himself for some useful, practical business. The opportunity soon came, when he was to go forth a youthful adventurer and engage in the stern realities of life, and grow up to manhood with settled principles of activity and integrity.

Leaving the parental roof before he had reached his fourteenth year, he came to Albany and served as a messenger boy in the assembly in the winter of 1845, when Horatio Seymour was speaker of the house. On the adjournment of that legislative session he went to New York city and filled a clerkship in a dry-goods store for two years. In 1847 he found employment as a rodman in a corps of civil engineers, on the old Utica and Schenectady railroad for two years more. In 1849 he took a position under the late Hon. Webster Wagner, as assistant at Palatine Bridge. He remained with Mr. Wagner until September, 1853, and was greatly esteemed by him for his steady, industrious and faithful characteristics.

Before the close of 1853, immediately after the organization of the Spraker bank of Canajoharie, young Fonda, then twenty-two years of age, secured the position of teller in the new institution, and after two years’ service in this capacity he was promoted, chiefly on account of his readiness and correctness in figures and his uprightness as a young man. In 1855 he was elected cashier of the Spraker bank, and for twelve years continued to discharge the duties of that responsible position in a careful, thorough, business-like manner, and with more than ordinary ability. Always at his post of duty, gentlemanly in his deportment and obliging in his manner, he was regarded as a model cashier by those with whom he came in contact in business matters.

At the close of this long period of creditable service in the bank, Mr, Fonda concluded to embark in the drug trade as the great work of his life and as being still more suitable to his taste; and, accordingly, on the 2d of May, 1865 – a day memorable in the history of Albany, when the remains of Abraham Lincoln lay in state in the capitol – he came to Albany and shortly afterward started out in his new business in company with Thomas Bagley, under the firm name of Fonda & Bagley. The venture was a successful one, and for thirteen years the house did an excellent business in its wholesale trade. In 1878 this firm was dissolved and that of Douw H. Fonda & Co. formed, which firm continued in existence until the 21st day of January, 1889, when a new incorporated company was organized, of which Douw H. Fonda is the able and efficient president.

In the midst of his confining mercantile duties, Mr. Fonda has found time to attend to educational matters in Albany. Early in 1880 he was elected a member of the board of public instruction, and for five years in all, served the best interests of education in this capacity. One of his first efforts, when a member of the board, was his introduction of a resolution, the ultimate object of which was to make the public school library free to all citizens – a resolution which was carried into successful operation, in 1881, with the election of a librarian.

For twenty years Mr. Fonda has been a member of the Masonic society, Temple lodge. No. 14. He is also a member of the Fort Orange club, the Albany club, the Holland society, a trustee of the reserve fund of the New York State Relief association, a director of the Life Union Insurance Company of New York city, etc. He has been a member of the church and congregation of the State Street Presbyterian church for over twenty-five years.

He has been twice married. The maiden name of his first wife was Mary A. French of Canajoharie, N. Y.; that of his present wife, Ellen A. Barker of the same place. He is the owner of the original Fonda mansion at Fonda, N. Y., a relic of the olden time, around which many interesting associations cluster in the minds of the descendants of this sturdy old race.

Mr. Fonda’s career is an ideal one, especially, in a business point – an admirable illustration of what a young man of correct habits and honorable dealings may attain to under our free institutions. From the day he left home, when scarcely fourteen years old, till the present time his hands and his heart have been engaged with untiring industry in works of a practical, beneficial nature.

A man of modest and retiring manners, with high and honorable impulses, his chief ambition in life seems to have been to do whatever he has undertaken in an able and conscientious manner, without courting the applause of his fellow-citizens or seeking official positions.



Noted living Albanians and state officials , A series of biographical sketches. 1891.

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